Matt Morgan has spent years turning Hero Zone in downtown Sandusky into a success.
But even with this bustling storefront, part of his business model relies on Ebay sales to widen his reach. His eBay activity accounts for about 10 percent of his annual revenue, although the importance here is measured in more than just dollars — it's about marketability and reputation.
“It's very important to have that presence, even for a small mom and pop store” Morgan said. “It legitimizes your business. People can see your credibility, they can see your history of service.”
Morgan's e-commerce account has about 1,100 comments offering feedback on everything from shipment packaging to speedy arrival. About 99 percent of the feedback is positive.
Most of his online sells are for rare or specialized cards that people are searching for to complete a collection. Occasionally, someone will ask Morgan to buy an entire collection — sometimes up to 10,000 cards.
“I have to sell it quickly to make my money back,” he said.
That's where his online shop proves its worth. It reaches a wider audience, ultimately pinning down collectors who will buy things faster than he could sell it in his Sandusky storefront.
Morgan is among the many retailers, large and small, who have accepted the reality that an online store is a must-have.
Forrester Research reports that online sales in the U.S. is growing at 10 times the rate of brick-and-mortar stores. The group projects online sales will reach $370 billion by 2017, up from $231 billion this year.
More retailers are blurring the lines between their physical stores and their online markets, all in an effort to be all things to all customers.
Brick-and-mortar mainstays like Macy's, Toys “R” Us and Target launched new strategies in recent years to win back sales from online juggernauts such as Amazon and eBay. Some of the ideas rolled out included price matching, same-day shipping, and allowing customers to pay for online purchases at one of the local stores. Macy's also launched an app smartphone users can use to search a store's inventory.
Such retailers also have a real advantage over retailers who are strictly electronic. Their physical stores give customers an opportunity to touch and examine products and talk to associates.
But not everyone has made the boat. Corporate brands that dominated industries in the 1990s found themselves shuttering shops and closing doors in the past decade, as the Internet siphoned off their customers.
Locally, two examples stand out.
In 2011, Borders announced it was closing its stores, unable to stop the hemorrhaging caused by big-name online bookstores, chief among them Amazon.
Then-president Mike Edwards had said Borders could not keep up with the rapidly changing book industry, such as the eReader phenomenon.
Blockbuster, too, started to close its stores in January 2012, when it moved toward a predominantly online presence. In 2012 Blockbuster closed about 500 stores, and just five months ago the company announced plans to close another 300 stores across the country, laying off about 3,000 workers.